Native scholar, writer laureate Nora Dauenhauer dies at 90

Former Alaska writer laureate and influential Tlingit scholar Nora Keixwnéi Dauenhauer died Monday at the age of 90.

Dauenhauer, of the Haines-Yakutat Lukaaxádi (sockeye) clan, was a giant of Tlingit language scholarship and literature. She is preceded in death by husband Richard Dauenhauer, a former Alaska poet laureate who died in 2014.

The Sealaska Heritage Institute, which published some of Dauenhauer’s work, announced her death Monday.

“It’s a significant loss to not only the Tlingit community but to the state of Alaska,” SHI President Rosita Worl told the Empire. “She was just a happy person. She was funny, she had a great sense of humor. She really brought a sense of joy to a great many people.”

The Dauenhauers — both scholars and poets — are credited with bringing the Tlingit oral tradition to world literature. They authored many books, including the “Classics of Tlingit Oral Literature” series, a seminal work in the preservation of the Tlingit oral tradition. Their book “Anóoshi Lingít Aaní Ká: Russians in Tlingit America, The Battles of Sitka 1802 and 1804” co-authored by the late Lydia Black of Fairbanks, was one of 14 winners of the prestigious American Book Award in 2008.

Nora Dauenhauer was named Alaska writer laureate in 2012. Her and Richard Dauenhauer, who earned the title of Alaska poet laureate in the 1980s, are Alaska’s only couple to win the award.

University of Alaska Southeast Native language professor Lance Twitchell said Nora Dauenhauer recognized early the literary value of Tlingit stories. Dauenhauer produced a series of over 500 taped interviews with Tlingit elders, which formed the backbone of her scholarship. Twitchell credits her work with asserting the beauty of Tlingit storytelling in an anglo-centric literary world.

“She really got people to examine the beauty of Tlingit,” Twitchell told the Empire on Monday. “She’s built the foundation (of Tlingit literature). Her and Richard. … She was an incredible poet. She was an incredible intellectual.”

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